Vietnamese Visions:

An interview with Natasja Sheriff from the WorldFish Centre about the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Applying KS tools to impact monitoring and evaluation’

Human beings have survived through adaptation. And for centuries peopleVietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 075 have come up with ingenious ways of coping with environmental extremes. In some parts of the world there is a dry season which is followed by not only a wet season but by flooding. Where crops stood a few short weeks ago, water now rolls and laps. What can a rice farmer do with this situation? Sit by for the months while his land is covered and simply wait for the season to end when he can plant crops again?

For most, struggling to get by, this is not an option. And so they adapt- making use of the water and its resources; they turn to fishing. This is the reality of the situation in the Mekong region of southern Vietnam.

But fishing is time consuming and doesn’t always yield that much for each individual.

Recognizing this predicament, the WorldFish Center set up a project in 2005 entitled ‘Community-based fish culture in seasonal floodplains and irrigation systems’ sponsored by the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food in Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Bangladesh and Mali to look at the possibility of developing appropriate fish culture activities in seasonally flooding areas through an adaptive learning approach.

The project aimed to help farmers to set up collective fish culture, develop better techniques for breeding fish, find effective ways of managing fish culture and pool their resources to reduce costs. The project wanted to help them to achieve successful fish culture, so that they can be productive the whole year round.

The principle behind the project is that working together can reduce the cost of growing fish,” says Natasja Sheriff, KSinR pilot project leader for Worldfish, and leader of the Community-based fish culture project. “During the flood season, the costs of enclosing individual plots of land for fish culture would be prohibitive for a single household. By combining their land resources and culturing fish in a larger enclosed area, farmers can share the capital and labour costs of fish culture.”

But as we all know, working together is easier said than done. And fish culture activities have suffered from issues of diverging goals and actions of those who should be working together—and the system has not succeeded in many cases.

Achieving successful community-based fish culture in Vietnam therefore has proven challenging for WorldFish and national project partners at the Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 2 in Ho Chi Minh City.

The project recognized that in order to do achieve the goal it would be necessary for both national partners and direct beneficiaries at the community level to evaluate fish culture activities each year and modify the following year’s approach based on the results.

Early attempts at introducing monitoring and evaluation came in the form of lengthy, complex surveys undertaken by the project team-which was limited in its structure, cumbersome to process results and hardly ever filtered back to the stakeholders. Little learning was being achieved. The project then felt that a more participatory approach to impact monitoring would provide a more complete and accurate picture of the local conditions as well as project impacts, with project beneficiaries being able to both share and receive information better.

Something different was required…something that focused more on sharing of knowledge. And so with a grant from the CGIAR ICT-KM program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research project, it piloted the use of knowledge sharing (KS) tools to help.Vietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 540

Outcome Mapping was the tool that was chosen to help with monitoring and evaluation in the project, but in a way more focused on effective knowledge sharing; and this was applied to WorldFish’s work in Vietnam.

When the partners in Vietnam suggested Outcome Mapping, I had actually not heard about it before,” admits Natasja. “Outcome Mapping is a process that can be used to monitor change. It can  also influence change by getting people together to talk about what it is they want to achieve and then developing markers or indicators to track progress. They say ‘how do we need to change in order to reach that goal?’ . A series of markers can be set up showing how we are all progressing towards achieving that goal.”

Natasja felt that Outcome Mapping could provide them with, not only a means of tracking their progression with the fish culture activities, but could additionally encourage them to look at what they themselves need to do to achieve their visions and commit to those activities by setting up regular monitoring towards achievable targets.Vietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 574

We spoke to the farmers in Vietnam and we asked them to imagine a vision of the future, asking them to ‘Imagine you wake up at the end of the project, how have things changed?’ The vision they had was of  more income: they were able to send their children to school, they have electricity in the village, they work together better, there is increased solidarity. That is what they hope to achieve with the project, and it is fairly ambitious. That identifies for them as a group their aspirations, their hopes and dreams which should be realised from their efforts. But these changes do not happen on their own”.

What outcome mapping does is to help groups like this to then share with each other, what needs to happen, who needs to be doing what—for those aspirations, hopes and dreams to be realized.

The impact of the fish culture project in Vietnam will not be known until the fish are harvested. It’s success will depend on factors such as whether poaching has  been dealt with and what the community itself has decided to do with the money they have earned.

But it is not too early to begin to assess the impact of applying knowledge sharing tools.

Knowledge sharing in itself, I think, is really useful,” concludes Natasja.  “It is a way of getting together and sharing ideas, being more participatory in the way that we do research, and the way in which we work together with beneficiaries.  I think it is a worthwhile investment to apply these approaches as tools for monitoring and evaluation and impact assessment. I think if you prioritize such tools at the beginning of any project they can lead to improved relationships with both project partners and beneficiaries, more effective monitoring and ultimately greater impact. As scientists, we need to spend more time actually talking with the people we are trying to help.”

Knowledge sharing can help to better understand and hopefully realize some of these Vietnamese visions.

For more information and outputs from thsi project- see the WorldFish KSinR pilot project page

Advertisements

In my previous blog posting yesterday, I wrote about a recent trip I made to visit the WorldFish-lead KSinR Pilot Project which has been tying out Outcome Mapping as a knowledge sharing approach to enhance a research project on fish culture activities in Vietnam.

But why Outcome Mapping? How does this serve as knowledge sharing? and what does it offer to improving the research process?

Outcome Mapping is relatively new approach, developed by IDRC to planning and M&E. The theory behind Outcome Mapping is that it focuses on one specific type of result: Outcomes as behavioural change. “Outcomes are defined as changes in the behaviour, relationships, activities, or actions of the people, groups and organizations with whom a program works directly.”

For more information on the Outcome Mapping approach- see:

So Outcome Mapping offers a new way of thinking about achievements within a project–a different type of knowledge–which is valuable for a project such as the WorldFish-run CPWF 35 project.

This project found that monitoring technical aspects alone such as fish numbers and types, snail population, etc was not enough to understand what was going on in the fish culture activities to provide support to the next season or to other groups. What was missing was a method which would also allow the project to understand what various groups were doing during the season, how did activities and behaviours change, what relationships formed and how did they work–all important knowledge to use in strengthening fish culture activities for those doing it and providing lessons for the project on the management of this collective activity.

Nets are used to create distinct ponds for fish culture activities in flooded areas. These are then managed collectively by a group--an activity which needs to be monitored and evaluated to generate lessons for further activities.
Nets are used to create distinct ponds for fish culture activities in flooded areas. These are then managed collectively by a group–an activity which needs to be monitored and evaluated to generate lessons for further activities.

Outcome Mapping apart from looking at a different type of knowledge also offers a different way of generating and sharing knowledge. Outcome Mapping is designed to be a participatory form of planning and M&E, taking into account the perspectives of various stakeholders both in the (intentional) design stage of Outcome Mapping for a project as well as in the monitoring and evaluation activities too.

Meeting with members of the farming club doing fish culture to discuss their vision, activities, experiences and lessons as part of using Outcome Mapping for M&E and learning

Outcome Mapping is meant to be interactive and based on the sharing of knowledge between a project and many of its stakeholders. The knowledge generated from this M&E approach is done in such a way that both two-way communication as well as learning are promoted. This is different from more traditional styles of M&E which consist of surveys or formal observation visits by project personnel (or consultants) who extract information from stakeholders, project sites and activities and then it resides in reports and databases. This offers little chance for others to learn from the process of M&E.

Since the WorldFish- run CPWF 35 project has been designed as an adaptive management approach, it is vital that lessons and experiences from one season of fish culture activities be fed back into the process for the groups of people who are carrying out and supporting such activities to learn from past seasons and readjust activities for the next season. A previous survey method used by the project was very complex, time-consuming, and data heavy. The results of the survey took a long time to collect, a long time to enter into a special database- leaving little time for analysis and with little prospect or mechanism for getting ‘results’ back to the people undertaking fish culture.

It was necessary to find a better way to carry out M&E within the project, in a way that could both better capture what was going on through including perspectives of those involved, as well as allowing an opportunity for learning by those involved in the fish culture activities themselves.

Thus Outcome Mapping was chosen as an approach to try…and we are following the efforts of this Project to use Outcome Mapping and making it available on the KS blog and website.

The Project Leader of the Knowledge Sharing in Research (KSinR) project recently visited the WorldFish-lead Pilot project in Vietnam.

The objectives of the trip were:

  • To observe the use of Outcome Mapping in the project
  • Provide support in the use of chosen KS tools
  • Capture lessons from the project
  • Collect materials and documents and take photographs (see trip photos on KS Flickr)
  • Discuss and conduct interviews with various stakeholders involved in the project
  • Plan for future project activities

So what is this project all about…

The WorldFish Centre submitted a proposal to the Knowledge Sharing in Research component of the KS project with the intention of “applying KS tools to impact monitoring and project M&E” to the CPWF 35 project on ‘Community-based fish culture in seasonal floodplains and irrigation systems’ that it is running. The rational was that as the overall project aims to develop appropriate technologies through an adaptive management approach it requires both national partners and direct beneficiaries at the community-level to evaluate fish culture activities each year and modify the following year’s approach based on the results. As such more participatory approaches to impact monitoring would provide a more appropriate and accurate picture of fish culture activities, including the perspectives of those involved, and make the learning directly accessible to those who are working in fish culture.

According to Natasja Sheriff, Project Leader of CPWF 35 and the KSinR Pilot project component:

“It is necessary to use approaches which adopt a more participatory approach to impact monitoring to ensure we are building a complete and accurate picture of project impacts and which allow project beneficiaries to more openly share their experience of project impact. Through more emphasis on sharing knowledge- we can all learn alot”

Through the Knowledge Sharing in Research project others can learn about the experience of this WorldFish Pilot project in using more knowledge sharing-oriented approaches to learning and M&E.

The trip–what was happening?

On this trip the Pilot Project Team was having to re-introduce Outcome Mapping to a new project site due to the previous site having decided not continue doing fish culture activities any longer. The activities of the week included:

*Presentation of and training in Outcome Mapping approach to local research partner- RIA2 again.

*Development of intentional design of Outcome Mapping by team, with inputs of VISIONS, BOUNDARY PARTNERS and PROGRESS MARKERS from various stakeholders such as WorldFish, RIA2, Local Authority, Fisheries Department, as well as the farmers themselves.

Keep tuned into this blog for a series of posts on the trip to Vietnam…